What if the things you’ve learned are not true? What if happiness eludes you after you get the dream job, or the perfect body or the impressive income? What then? It’s not easy to tune in to what you really want when the things that you thought you wanted turn out to leave you feeling empty.
When you are navigating uncertainty and you don’t know exactly what you want, it’s sometimes a lot easier to know exactly what you don’t want, because you’ve already chased the dream, in some cases even achieved it... and at the end, you’re left wanting something else. Knowing what you don’t want is relatively easy. Actually acting on that is a bit harder. The painful part is knowing that you want to say no and agonizing over whether you can. This is where a lot of us suffer needlessly.
I’m happy to say that the message I got while as a child, (“You don’t have to want to, you just have to do it”) is fading a bit. In fact, the current zeitgeist seems to be moving in the direction of being transparent about saying no, without providing excuses or harboring guilt. I recently saw two examples of this turning tide in pop culture: In the sitcom, The Mindy Project, Vanessa William’s character turns down an offer to accept a position in an OB/GYN practice by texting Mindy, “I wish I could join you, but I can’t. Because I don’t want to.” On Saturday Night Live, one of the highlights of a recent show was the digital short “Say What You Wanna Say.”
Saying no, or more specifically, not saying yes to what you don’t want to say yes to – is more than liberating. It allows you to express yourself as yourself. And when you do that, you become more in touch with exactly who you are and what you want, because you’re exercising your own discernment. You’re crossing some things off the list. You’re eliminating some possibilities, which always feels like relief to me.
So, when you are feeling like the truth about what you want eludes you, I have found it enormously helpful to focus on the following instead:
1. Notice what happens when you give yourself what your body wants: adequate sleep; food that makes you feel energized, alert, and satiated; movement that feels good, or perhaps more rest if you are the kind of person that feels that you just can’t skip a workout.
2. Resist the urge to solve, to get an answer, to fix right now. Let yourself have time and space. There’s a time and a place to work on yourself or come up with a solution. But, sometimes the solution is not to try so hard. When self-improvement or analysis feels like a chore, it’s probably not the best idea to engage in it.
3. Be here now. Whether you meditate, watch the sunset, or sit in the bath without distraction, do something every day that allows you to be one-hundred percent present.
4. Let go of stuff that isn’t absolutely necessary and feels like a chore. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to keep all your appointments, say yes to every invitation, or do the things you tell yourself you “should” do.
5. Ask for guidance. There are a few ways to think about asking for guidance. Of course, there’s a time and a place to survey your people. But, most of us tend to look for guidance externally, which ends up exacerbating our internal noise. Another way to think about guidance is more spiritual/metaphysical. Ask for specific signs to point you in the correct direction. Notice them when they appear. Write your own prayers to help you be guided to exactly what’s best for you. Tosha Silver’s book, Outrageous Openness has been a great resource for me in this regard.
6. Future-pace and tune into your body and your senses. When opportunities come your way and you are having difficulty deciphering whether you want to do them or not, visualize yourself saying yes to the opportunity or saying no. See what you would see, feel what you would feel, hear what you would hear, smell what you would smell, taste what you would taste. Tune in completely to that experience. Your body and your senses will not lead you astray.